A former Homer Volunteer Fire Department chief will step in as interim fire chief, the city announced in a press release on Tuesday.
Robert Purcell, who retired as fire chief at the end of 1999, will return to lead the department while the city searches for a new chief and assistant fire chief. He started Monday, Dec. 17.
The city announced earlier this month that former Chief Terry Kadel was no longer employed by the city. City Manager Katie Koester said she was prevented by confidentiality rules from saying whether he was fired or left of his own accord.
Purcell will run the department until a permanent replacement for Kadel can be found.
“My current thinking, and the goal of the city manager, is I will work through that process and have some sort of transition with the new fire chief,” Purcell said Tuesday.
Dan Miotke will continue as the acting Assistant Chief in charge of operations.
Purcell, 67, first started as a volunteer firefighter in 1979 and became station manager in 1980. In 1984 he was named Fire Department Administrator. In 1992, when the Homer Volunteer Fire Department nonprofit became a city department, Purcell became fire chief.
Purcell’s mother was from France, and Purcell is bilingual in French and English. He grew up in Pottsdam, New York, in the St. Lawrence river valley. He said his parents told him his first word was “feu,” or “fire,” in French.
During his career as HVFD fire chief, Purcell worked on major disasters such as the 39-hour long Cape Lynch boat fire, the Ryan Air crash and the Icicle Seafoods fire.
“Robert has a deep passion and commitment to this community and the Homer Volunteer Fire Department,” Koester wrote in the press release. “His vast knowledge, coupled with his experience with the department, makes him uniquely positioned to lead the Department. I cannot express how pleased I am to have this level of experience and knowledge in both fire service and emergency response and management on board as we look to fill two permanent leadership positions within the Department.”
After retiring from the city, Purcell worked 17 years as an operations section chief with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. His wife, Melon, retired last year as a third grade teacher at McNeil Canyon Elementary School.
Based out of Homer, Purcell was on 24-hour call to respond to disasters in Alaska and elsewhere in the United States. He worked on everything from the Sept. 11 attacks to hurricanes, earthquakes and floods.
“Pretty much the gamut of disasters,” he said. “… It was interesting work. I really enjoyed it. I got to the point where I was fully ready to retire — I thought.”
In the city’s press release, Koester wrote Purcell will use his FEMA experience to help update the city’s Emergency Operations Plan and create a Recovery Plan. He also will advise the city on designing a new Emergency Operations Center to go in the new Homer Police Station.
A recovery plan is a component of disaster response cities often don’t think about, Purcell said.
“I’ve offered to help the city develop strategies to implement in the event they face such an unfortunate situation,” he said. “It will make things go a lot smoother. It will get things back up quicker, and hopefully help the city save money.”
Though he knows many volunteers from his past work and from the community, Purcell said he planned to get acquainted with those he doesn’t know starting with a holiday party Tuesday night.
Calling himself “volunteer centric,” Purcell said, “That’s always been my approach, that the key to emergency services, the real foundation for emergency services in this community, is our volunteers. That’s the big focus of what my role and the fire chief’s role is — to support the recruitment of volunteers and support them in everything.”
Purcell also said he plans to have more community outreach to explain the role of the department and how the department can help, whether it’s for tsunamis or wildland fire safety.
“We’ll redouble our efforts on outreach so the community understands what the organization provides,” he said.
Reach Michael Armstrong at firstname.lastname@example.org.